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For small businesses, storms can be especially painful

Tom Erb watched the clock on Monday morning, his nerves on edge. The owner of Electric Time Co. had a big shipment to send out the door — a 20-foot clock tower, bound for Baton Rouge, La. — before the blizzard hit.

Erb got lucky. The truck came through. It would be the last shipment from Electric Time’s Medfield plant until Thursday, at least. Another truck, he said, won’t be easy to find until well after the storm.

Across New England, companies like Erb’s are dealing with storm-related headaches: disappointed customers, delayed orders, lost revenue. For small businesses, the frustrations are particularly acute. Their margins for error are slimmer. Losing a day’s worth of sales or a valuable customer is more painful.


“When people aren’t able to get to work, it has a bigger effect on smaller businesses,” said Bill Vernon, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Workers suffer, too.

Erb said his 35-person staff will be paid for Tuesday while the plant is closed, and some will handle sales calls remotely. But other small employers don’t have the wherewithal to pay their workers, or they require them to use vacation or sick time.

“There are a lot of hourly employees who will just lose out on wages,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

In Avon, Mike Tamasi decided to close his machine shop, AccuRounds, early on Monday, before the storm. That meant losing at least three shifts: one on Monday and two on Tuesday. Accurounds workers won’t be paid for their missed time, but Tamasi said he will let them use vacation time and work during a special shift on Saturday to make up for the lost income.

He expects that revenue will drop 3 to 4 percent for the month. “Losing production is a killer,” Tamasi said.


Not every small business will see a net loss in sales this week. But even the ones that benefit from weather-related revenue grapple with a checklist of hurdles.

Duxbury-based Verc Enterprises plans to keep all 25 of its Mobil and Gulf gas stations and convenience stores open during the blizzard, chief executive Leo Vercollone said. To pull it off, Verc paid for hotel rooms for employees and rented two Ford Expedition SUVs for its district managers. The goal is to provide fuel and food for road crews and emergency workers. Vercollone just hopes he can keep the gasoline in stock: By midday Monday, his Mobil stations in Acton and Manchester, N.H., had run out.

For Bill Round of Round’s Hardware in Stoneham, performing under pressure represents a chance to attract new customers who might return when they’re not racing to find a snowblower or a shovel. He said this blizzard represents a “perfect storm” for the shop because people knew about it well in advance and had time to stock up when the roads were clear.

Red Paint Hospitality Group’s owner, Doug Bacon, got creative in his storm preparations. He spent Monday afternoon figuring out which employees at his five Boston restaurants, which include White Horse Tavern and the Last Drop, could walk to work. For other key employees, he’ll dispatch a snowplow truck to collect them or put them up at the Eliot Hotel in Back Bay.

“We do great business [in a blizzard] because people are looking to get out and share the experience with their neighbors,” Bacon said. “It’s kind of fun, as long as the power goes on. If the lights go off, the party’s over.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com.